Saturday, 22 December 2012

2012 Round Up

It is often said that you learn most from difficult years - if this is the case then I'm now the fountain of all viticulture knowledge! 2012 wasn't a complete disaster for us but we will hope and pray that we don't get another year as bad for a long time.

The season started with a warm period which resulted in early bud break and we were woken by frost alarms no fewer than eight times in March and April. Fortunately the Boujies did their trick and we were able to prevent any significant frost damage. The weather was then cold and wet in May, June and early July, resulting in late flowering and very poor fruit set ... and some downey mildew to boot. The lack of summer sun meant that a lot of the fruit then didn't ripen fully and we ended up having to selectively hand pick the ripe bunches. Overall we harvested about 3.5 tonnes of fruit compared to the 15 tonnes we might have hoped for.

The good news is that we seem to have fared no worse than non-organic vineyards and the juice from the grapes we did pick is really good. As a result we are hopeful of releasing about 1200 bottles of Silent Pool Rose 2012 next May, less than we had planned but more than last year. We have decided to blend the sparkling base wines from 2011 and 2012 to produce a high quality fizz, which should be available for the summer of 2015.

We are now busy pruning 21,000 vines in preparation for a fabulous and sunny 2013.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Vineyard in November

The vineyard in November

November is probably the only quite month in the year for a vineyard and it should be the time for a vineyard manager to take a well earned rest. For Alex this means she will have time to take her 500cc motorcycle test!

Having completed the harvest, the vines are winding down and there isn't a lot to do before we start pruning in December. Last week we sprayed the vines with a copper solution to kill off any disease and later this week Alex will drench the ground with compost tea to improve the fertility of the soil and return some of the nutrients that were used for the grapes.

Once all the leaves have fallen and the wood has ripened we will start pruning the vines. It's going to be quite a task this year as there are 21,000 that need to be expertly cut back, leaving the best canes to tie down for next years growth. Luckily we have December, January and February to complete the task.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Alex, cow horns and some dung!

Horn Manure in the making

Now that we are biodynamic we have started to make our own biodynamic preparations. One of the most basic is Horn Manure (preparation 500) which is made by burying cow horns stuffed with dung from lactating organic cows.

Biodynamics is probably the most advanced form or organic viticulture. "Bio" means life and "Dynamics" means energy. It is an holistic approach which harmonises nature's elemental forces of the earth (the soil), water (the vines), air (the weather) and fire (the sun). It also recognises that the phases of the moon have a significant influence on plants.

Earlier today we buried our first cow horns on the vineyard which will be left there over winter. Alex wasn't too happy that the dung was pretty fresh but none the less did great job of stuffing it into the horns! The horns are dug up in the Spring, the contents dynamised in water and then sprayed on the vines. The purpose of this preparation is to improve the fertility of the vineyard. It also connects the vines to the land to encourage a sense of terroir in the grapes and ultimately the wine.

It is difficult to understand how the small quantities we use can make such a difference, but just because it is difficult to comprehend doesn't mean that it doesn't work. Many great vineyards and wineries around the world are convinced by the biodynamic approach, including Domaine Leflaive and Le Roy in Burgundy, Coulee de Serrant in the Loire, Beaux Freres in Oregon, Hensche in Australia and Jean-Pierre Fleury in Champagne.

Monday, 29 October 2012

2012 - A Challenging Year

2012 will be remembered as a very difficult year for vineyards in England. Quite simply the weather has been dreadful - the worst that anyone can remember since 1997.

Having successfully protected the vines against the April frosts, the problems started with poor fruit set in the summer. Grapes pollinate themselves and need a period of dry warm weather in late June/early July. Unfortunately it was wet and windy which reduced yields to only 25%-30% of what they might have been. The wet weather also resulted in some downey mildew on some of the chardonnay. More recently the lack of sun meant that some of the fruit took a long time to ripen and the harvest was delayed by almost 3 weeks. We were then hit by a fairly severe Autumn frost!

To make sure that we didn't compromise on quality we have selectively hand picked only the ripest bunches of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for our Silent Pool Rosé 2012. We won't have a lot of it (around 1200 bottles) but what we do have should be very good.

Overall we picked about 3.5 tonnes of fruit which will also be used to produce a base wine for our bubbly which will be released in 2014/2015.

Alex and the team have done an amazing job this year in delivering some great fruit in very challenging conditions. It is particularly gratifying that we were able to do this whilst sticking to our organic principles of not using any systemic chemicals to fight off disease. From what I've heard we have faired much better than most conventional growers.

Many thanks also to family and friends who helped with the picking. Ever optimistic, I'm sure that next year will be a bumper harvest.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

First Pinot Grapes are Harvested

Yesterday we hand picked around 700kg of Pinot Noir for the 2012 Silent Pool Rosé, which produced around 450 litres of excellent must. It's been a very difficult year so we decided to selectively pick only the very best fruit to ensure that we maintain our quality standards. Next week we will pick the ripest Pinot Meunier which will also be used for the still rosé. The production this year will be small like last year but the quality should be good.

The Seyval and Chardonnay still need to ripen further and we are keeping our fingers crossed for a bit of an Indian summer next week.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Harvest Update

This time last year we had picked all the grapes on the vineyard and Silent Pool Rose 2011 was in the making. This year the weather has been so dreadful that we have had to delay the harvest for 2-3 weeks to take advantage of a few last rays of sunshine, which will hopefully increase the sugars and reduce acid levels. Whilst good sparkling wine requires fairly acidic juice, still wine needs to be made from must with lower acid levels and a higher sugar content.

To help the ripening process we have been stripping leaves away from the grapes and taking off unripe bunches to give the remaining fruit the best chance of ripening. Some of the Pinot bunches are now quite ripe but equally some are not. We have therefore decided that we will probably pick the ripe bunches at the end of next week and leave the others for a further week when we will also pick the Seyval and the Chardonnay. A final decision on picking dates will be made this Wednesday when we will assess the acid and sugar levels with our expert winemakers.

Whilst quantities will be lower than we would have hoped for this year, there is still a good chance that we can produce some really good quality wine.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Vinyard Update

The Vineyard in the heart of the Surrey Hills

It's been a very difficult year for viticulture in the UK. The weather was cold and wet in May and June, which led to poor fruit set in July. Since then the wet, but warmer, weather in July and August has resulted in Downey Mildew arriving on the vineyard, particularly in Block C, which is planted with Chardonnay.

Overall I estimate that we will pick around 6 tonnes of grapes this year compared to the 15 tonnes we might have hoped for. The big question now is will we get enough sun to ripen the grapes before harvest which is likely to be towards the end of October?

Good quality sparkling wine can be made from fairly acidic juice, which is why it is why sparkling wine is so successful in England. However still wines, including our Silent Pool Rosé, need riper fruit to produce a wine with good flavour that isn't too acid. The good news is that because we have less fruit we will need less sun to produce good quality juice.

To help with the ripening we have been busy plucking the leaves by hand from around the fruit on all 21,000 vines - next year were going to get a machine to automate the process!

Making Sense of Wine

Dr Wend Parr

I attended a fascinating masterclass recently on wine sensory evaluation given by Dr Wendy Parr from Lincoln University in New Zealand.

When you taste a wine there are three things to consider: the person doing the tasting (physiology and psychology), what is in the wine glass (chemical composition) and the interaction between the two. "The tast of the bottle is not just in the bottle it is in your mind."

It was fascinating to taste wines without seeing them and find out that it wasn't that easy to tell the colour. Also, tasting wine with a nose clip made them much more difficult to "taste" as the nasal passage plays a key role in taste as well as smell.

We learnt how to categorise wines in terms of how sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savoury they are and also how the order in which you taste wines can influence your judgement. It was comforting to learn that wine experts often get things wrong; I felt that one of the most important messages was to trust your own judgement.

We finished with a blind tasting of six wines and later learnt that four were Sauvignon Blanc (two from France and two from New Zealand) and the remaining two were produced from the Bacchus grape in England. Amazing how the same grape varieties from different regions can produce such different flavours. The Bacchus wines were excellent but nobody guessed the origin or the grape variety!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

New Website goes live -

We are delighted with our new website which has just gone live. Developed by Dave Nyss of d2, it provides more information about the vineyard and an improved user interface. It will also allow customers to purchase the wine on-line when we release this years vintage next May.

The new site has information on stockists, including local wine merchants and restaurants who have our wines on their lists. Sadly most have already sold out!

You can also sign-up for email updates which will including blog updates and a quarterly newsletter.

Hope you like it. Comments welcome - good or bad!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Horn Silica (501)

We were up early this morning preparing biodynamic preparation 501 which is a Horn Silica spray. It is most effective if sprayed at sunrise, when the dew is still on the ground, so we met at 5.30am to prepare the mixture and Alex was on the vineyard spraying soon after 6.30am!

Horn Silica is used during the growing season to enhance growth and maturation. It is sprayed on the vine canopy to enhance the photosynthesis of the leaves to improve growth and maturation. It helps to stabilise plant metabolism and increases nutritive value. It can also strengthen the vines against attack by fungus.

It is prepared by making a paste using finely ground quartz crystals and water. This is placed in cow horn and buried during the Spring. Small amounts of the crystals are then dissolved into water and sprayed on the vineyard. The crystals enhance the effectiveness of light on the vines and so it is best sprayed on sunny days.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Downy Mildew

Downy Mildew "oilspots"
Unfortunately we have found evidence of Downy Mildew on the vineyard in Blocks A and C. Initial symptoms are usually seen on the leaves, which show yellow "oilspots" on the leaf surface. It is caused by the fungus Plasmopara viticola and is potentially a devastating disease as it can spread very rapidly through the vineyard causing the foliage to die as well as infecting the grape bunches.

Downy Mildew infected grapes
Downy Mildew only occurs in specific wetness and temperature conditions. There has to be 10mm or more of rainfall with a temperature of 10C over a 24 hour period (often referred to as 10:10:24 conditions) with rain towards the end of the 24 hour period followed by several hours of leaf wetness. It spreads when overnight conditions are 13C or more and several hours of leaf wetness occur after dawn. The fungus also produces white "downy" patches on the underside of the leaves.

The only organic approved fungicides effective against Downy Mildew are based on copper hydroxide and copper sulphate. However we are restricted to using small amounts and they will only help prevent the fungus from spreading and won't eradicate existing infections.

Alex will be spraying the effected areas with copper today and the rest of the vineyard with potassium bicarbonate which may also help.

Not a good weather year for the vineyard!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Albury Celebrates with Silent Pool Rosé

Our new gazebo made its first appearance at the Albury Produce Show on Saturday. We were very pleased with the gazebo but Albury residents were even more impressed with our Silent Pool Rosé.

Most folk had heard that a local wine had been served on the Royal Barge as part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and were keen to taste it for themselves. Over 170 people tasted the wine and our remaining stock was sold out within a couple of hours - a resounding success.

Fingers crossed for some good weather next week to help fruit set followed by a hot late summer so that we have a good harvest and a repeat performance next year.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Shoot Tipping

Shoot Tipping

Shoot tipping is part of canopy management that involves removing the top of the growth tip of a shoot. This temporarily changes the flow direction of nutrients and water and therefore encourages lateral shoot growth, which in turn will provide additional leaf surface which increases photosynthesis during fruit ripening.

This practice would normally be done after fruit set but Peter Hayes has advised us that that vine tipping may also divert carbohydrate to flowers and help the fruit set process. It won't overcome poor flower development or reinstate aborted flowers but where vigor is high may help. With the recent poor weather we need all the help we can get!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Rain rain go away

St Swithin's Holy Well

We don't have a single day in the next 10 that is forecast to be without rain - in July! This isn't good news on the vineyard  as it is the season for flowing and pollination which, to be effective, requires warm dry and sunny days.

Flowering is between one and two weeks behind this year as a result of the poor cooler weather in May and June. Some of the Seyval have flowered but there is no cap fall yet on the Pinot and Chardonnay. We can only hope that the sun shines on St. Swithin's day (15th July) and that 40 days of sun continue thereafter. Alex and I will be doing a sun dance later today!

Friday, 8 June 2012

SEVA Awards

Winemaker Ulrich Hoffmann

Last night our Silent Pool Rosé was award a bronze medal at the South East Vineyards Association (SEVA) awards ceremony. This was quite an achievement given that it is our very first wine. Congratulations to Alex, who lovingly nurtured the vines to give us great quality grapes in a difficult year, and Ulrich who turned them into a lovely wine.

There were no gold medals this year, which probably reflects that the judges are now assessing the wines by international standards: overall there were 7 silver medals, 29 bronze and 17 highly commended. The chair of the judges was Andy Howard who heads up the Marks and Spencer wine department. Silver medals were awarded to the following wines:

   Plumpton Estate’s Dean Blush Brut (NV)
   Gusbourne’s Estate’s Blanc de Blancs (2007)
   Bolney Wine Estate’s Pinot Noir (2011)
   Biddenden Vineyard’s Gribble Bridge Rosé (2011)
   Denbies Wine Estate’s Ranmore Hill (2009)
   Hill Farm Vineyard’s Hill Farm Dry White (2011)
   Sandhurst Vineyard’s Sandhurst Bacchus (2011)

We tasted these wines during dinner and they were all fabulous. Peter Morgan from Plumpton collected the best wine trophy for The Dean Brut Blush, and Gusbourne's Blanc de Blanc won the cup for second place.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Silent Pool Rosé- The toast of the Royal Barge!

Much to our delight, our first wine, Silent Pool Rosé 2011, has been selected to be served to the Royal party on board the Royal Barge, Spirit of Chartwell, as it sails down the Thames leading the historic flotilla to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations on Sunday.

Two other English wines will also be served: Nytimber Classic Cuvee 2007 and the Stopham Pinot Blanc 2010.

Silent Pool Rosé is made from organic Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes from our own vineyard which is expertly cared for by vineyard manager Alex Valsecchi.  Winemaker Ulrich Hoffman, of Vivid Wines, made the wine at his new boutique winery. Thanks must also go to Stephen Skelton who, as well as helping me establish the vineyard, continues to provide us with expert advice.

Royal approval in our first year!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Silent Pool Rosé available for sale on the 2nd June

Silent Pool Rosé 2011

Our first wine, Silent Pool Rosé, is already proving extremely popular. It's not officially for sale yet but local off-licences, restaurants and retail outlets are clamouring to include it on their lists!

Retail outlets
The Guildford Wine Company, Shalford
Taurus Wines, Bramley
The Vineyard, Dorking

Drummond Arms, Albury
Kinghams Restaurant, Shere
Percy Arms, Chilworth
William Bray, Shere
William IV, Little London
Wisley Golf Club, Ripley

The Guildford Wine Company will be hosting a small tasting at the beginning of English Wine Week on Saturday 2nd June between 11.00am and 5.00pm. I'll be there to provide information about the vineyard and the wine to anyone who is prepared to listen!

We are delighted with the quality of the wine which has been produced from hand picked Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier organic grapes from our own vineyard. I just wish we had more bottles available this year as we are likely to run out of the meagre 820 we produced before summer arrives. If you manage to get some, you'll be one of the lucky few!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Our Very First Wine - Silent Pool Rosé

The Silent Pool

Earlier this week we bottled our first wine which we have called Silent Pool Rosé. It has been made exclusively from hand-picked organic Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes from our own vineyard. We are delighted with our first effort; our winemaker, Ulrich Hoffmann, describes the wine as elegant and crisp with subtle and fresh summer fruit flavours.

We only have 820 bottles this year so it will be in scarce supply. Next year we hope to have around 5000 bottles.

Silent Pool is a lake of crystal clear water adjacent to the vineyard. Natural filtration leaves the water completely clear with a lovely blue-green colour. According to local legend a beautiful young maiden drowned there, escaping the clutches of King John, and now haunts the Silent Pool.

Friday, 6 April 2012

A Frosty Night

Much appreciated help from Philip, JB, Peter and Gary

We were out on the vineyard last night as temperatures reached as low as -4C. At this time of year frost is our biggest nightmare as it can cause significant damage even before bud burst. Michigan State University have produced a chart showing vine frost tolerance at different temperature levels according to bud development

Our vines are mainly at the stage of full swell and some damage will occur at around -3C. With the help of the boujies, orchard burners, a FrostBuster and a converted corn dryer, we managed to keep most of the vineyard above -2.5C. However I recorded some areas at -3.5C so we will have to wait and see how much damage has been done.

No frost is forecast for the next few days but we still have some time to go before the risk of frost diminishes. Once the buds have burst -1C will cause around 10% damage but this could increase to 90% at -3C when there are three leaves on the vines.

No doubt some more sleepless nights ahead.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Were Going Biodynamic!

Horn Manure (Preparation 500) 

Alex thinks I've gone crazy but we've taken the plunge anyway and gone biodynamic!

Biodynamics is  sort of organics plus. Like organics, it excludes the use of artificial chemicals and encourages the use of composts and manures. However it also promotes the holistic interrelationships between the soil, the plants and animals, as well as the more subtle rhythms associated with the moon, the sun and the planets.

Special manure and herb based preparations are applied to the vineyard to enhance and stimulate microbiological life in the soil and improve fertility. We sprayed our first preparation last Monday which included Horn Manure (500) and Barrel Preparation, which is made from fermented cow manure to which is added small amounts of basalt meal and ground egg shells as well as the herb preparations of yarrow, chamomile, dandelion and valerian flowers, oak bark and stinging nettle. Later in the year we will spray Horn Silica (501).

Many famous vineyards throughout the world have adopted the biodynamic approach, including Coulee de Serrant, Domaine de Romanee Conti, Domaine Laflaive, Beaux Freres in Oragon and Henschke in Australia. In Burgundy alone there are more than forty biodynamic estates.

By going biodynamic we believe that we are encouraging the natural terroir of the land, which will give the wine its own special character, as well as taking another step towards sustainable viticulture and wine making.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Gary and the Frost Killer vs Jack Frost

Gary and the Frost Killer

Our latest piece of armoury in the war against Jack Frost is now ready for action!

Gary has converted and old corn dryer machine so that it continually sucks in huge amounts of cold air at ground level and shots it skywards. This will hopefully create enough air movement in the lowest part of the vineyard to fight off the worst of potential frosts.

The Frost Killer will be used with our other frost prevention equipment which comprises a FrostGuard machine, which blasts warm air around the vineyard, and hundreds of boujies (French for candle) which are paraffin heaters which we put in the rows near to the vines.

The warm weather at the moment means that we are likely to get bud burst  in early April, following which we will have to be ready to get up in the middle of the night to fight off Jack Frost.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Alex loves pruning!

Double Guyot pruning

The main task in the vineyard during winter is pruning which has to be done by hand. We now have 21,000 vines to prune but fortunately Alex loves the job. Since December she has been sniping away with the help of her partner Cliff and some casual workers. I'm feeling very guilty as I've been in Australia for the last 6 weeks on a combined holiday and work trip.

Pruning this year is taking a bit longer as we have some trunk disease in the vineyard. To help prevent this from spreading we have decided to sterilise the secateurs between vines and also spray all the pruning wounds with Trichoderma which helps to heal the wounds quickly.

The pruning is now complete and we have started to tie down the canes to the fruiting wire. Those most susceptible to frost will be left until the end in the hope that by leaving them higher will make them less vulnerable. We have also left the canes a little longer as initial bud burst tends to occur at the end of the cane. We will prune the canes again to around 6 buds once the danger of a spring frost has gone at the end of April.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Lower alcohol wines are cool!

In research commissioned by German wine trade fair Prowein, significant minorities of wine drinkers in the US, China, Germany and the UK said their ideal wine would have less than 12% alcohol.
In Britain, 22% said their ideal wine was 10.5% or less, with similar numbers in Germany and the US saying the same. The preference for lower alcohol is most marked in the younger generation. In Britain, 27% of the 18-39 age group said that their preferred strength was 10.5% or less.
Our first wine, a still Rosé, will be released later this year with an alcohol content of just 11%. Next year we will aim for the 10.5% level to meet what we also believe is a growing demand for lower alcohol wines.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Organic Wine

The European logo for Organic Wine

The European Commission has voted to implement standards for the production and labelling of organic wine.

Up until now there has been no approved process for the production of organic wine and therefore it has only been possible to label wine as "produced from organic grapes". These new regulations will allow wine to be certified as organic which for the first time will allow consumers to be confident that they are purchasing a fully organic product.

The new laws have been voted on but have not yet been published - when they are they will become law. We will aim to ensure that our 2012 vintage is certified organic

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Ladybird Ladybird fly away home!

Harmonia axydris (Japenese Ladybug)

An interesting and somewhat worrying presentation at the ICCS yesterday by Kevin Ker from Brook University, Canada.

Ladybirds are often regarded as beneficial insects that feed on harmful pests like aphids. However some non-native ladybirds like the Harmonia axydris (known as the Japenese Ladybug) are increasingly being found in vineyards in North America, Canada and Europe, including the UK. This species can cause a real problem in vineyards by tainting the grape must, which can't be rectified in the wine making process.  Apparently in Canada this has been a big problem, resulting in thousands of litres of wine being poured down the drain. 

In the UK its not yet a significant issue, but we will keep a lookout for the Japenese Ladybug which has a distinctive black "M" on the back of it's head.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

What's Hot About Cool Climate?

This years International Cool Climate Symposium for viticulture and oenology is being held in Hobart, Tasmania. I'm lucky enough to be attending which I've coincided with a family holiday in Australia. 

Jancis Robinson opened the conference with a keynote speech titled "What's hot about cool climate", which was an illuminating tour of potential new regions in the world for an expanding market for cool climate wines. She described cool climate wines as more refreshing, generally healthier (with a lower alcohol content) and easier to match with food. 

This was followed by an excellent presentation from  Dr Andrew Pirie on "Defining cool climate viticulture and winemaking". He used the GST (Growing Season Temperature) measure to define cool (14-16C), very cool (13-14C) and too cool (under 13C). Surrey is around 13.9C. 

Andrew maintained that the GST measure also tells you what varietals can be successfully grown; in very cool regions, muller-thurgau, seyval, reichensteiner, and bacchus are found, while in cool regions, such as Champagne (14.1-14.7C), Alsace and Central Otago,  gewurztraminer, pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, gamey, sauvignon blanc and riesling are best suited. Over 16C varieties such as cabernet sauvignon are grown in areas like Bordeaux.

In the last 30 years temperatures in the south of England have increased by around 1.5C, so we are likely to soon be very firmly in the cool category.

Pruning and Bud Fruitfulness

Alex with Peter Hayes on the vineyard

Earlier this month we were very fortunate to have international wine expert, Peter Hayes, visit the vineyard as part of the Wineskills programme.

One of the topics we discussed was the need to understand Bud Fruitfulness and how it might impact on the level of pruning in the winter. Fruitfulness is the weight of fruit produced by each bud and can be affected by the weather conditions during the previous year. 

Pruning establishes the number of buds retained for each vine. Buds produce shoots which in turn produce clusters, so the greater the number of buds per vine, the greater the potential yield. Shoots also produce leaves and therefore pruning also determines the vine’s leaf area and therefore the vine’s ability to produce sugar; the building block for aroma, tannin and color compounds (essential the quality of the wine).

Proper pruning creates a balance between the vine’s leaf area and the amount of fruit produced. If pruning is not severe enough too many buds are retained, which can result in over cropping which stresses the vine and is likely to result in poor unripened fruit. If pruning is too severe then the optimum yield potential isn't realised. Quality can also be adversly effected as the vines energy is concentrated on fewer shoots creating an over dense canopy.  Pruning decisions not only affect the quality of the current season’s crop, but impact on the quality of next year’s harvest by also affecting “bud fruitfulness".

The poor summer last year may well adversely affect the bud fruitfulness this year, and for this reason we are pruning the vines a little longer with a view to cutting them back further once initially budding has taken place. Next winter we will investigate the possibility of getting a lab to analyse the potential fruitfulness of cane samples from the vineyard, so that we can better judge the level of pruning necessary to give us the best chance of producing the optimum crop levels.